It is my stop on the Ultimate blog tour for What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson, which is about to be released and I am sure will bring joy and emotion to many readers. Thank you very much to Dave @ The Write Reads for facilitating this tour, Noly for the impressively designed banner which you can see at the end of this post, and the author and publisher for my free advanced copy of the book.
Published: 8th April 2021
Genre: General Fiction
Trigger warnings: Suicide, drugs, animal death, violence/domestic abuse
Jack Dahl has nothing left. Except his younger brother, Matty, who he’d do anything for. Even die for. Now with their mother gone, and their funds quickly dwindling, Jack needs to make a choice: lose his brother to foster care, or find the drug money that sent his father to prison. He chooses the money.
Ava Bardem lives in isolation, a life of silence. For seventeen years her father has controlled her fate. He has taught her to love no one. Trust no one. Now Victor Bardem is stalking the same money as Jack. When he picks up Jack’s trail, Ava must make her own wrenching choice: remain silent or help the brothers survive.
This is both a thoughtful and moving story which focuses on the complexity of dysfunctional familial circumstances and the survival instinct of the children who are left behind. Full of atmosphere and rawness, it provides a unique combination of dual perspectives that certainly increase the level of intrigue, though sadly the writing style was not entirely my cup of tea.
The first thing to notice about the book is its rather opulent aesthetic. Each chapter is headed by a decorative outline of trees and animals, a really nice touch. On closer inspection the roman numerals that signal the beginning of a chapter are in a seemingly random order, so they were difficult to decipher. Then we have the narrative itself, which is descriptive yet concise, with emphasis placed on the dialogue and rapport between the three main characters.
Ava is the narrator and every chapter begins with a short monologue written in italics, often describing her connection to Jack and the events which have taken place. The rest is then told in the third person, switching between Jack, being relentlessly pursued following the death of his mother and forced to look after his brother Matty; the local sheriff, and Ava’s manipulative father.
The highlight of the story was unquestionably the depth of feeling and responsibility Jack had towards Matty. It was clear that he would do just about anything to protect him, and their interactions were heartfelt. There was a childlike quality to them that seemed utterly authentic and that was enhanced by the fact that Jack does sometimes take careless risks and makes mistakes. Ava could have been developed slightly more as a character, but one thing for sure is that she was very proactive.
Also notable was the sense of atmosphere that is present throughout. The rural locations and wintery climate were captured brilliantly, to the extent that you could almost see the frost clinging to the branches of a tree or the rattling of the wind. It was just within the story itself where the writing suffered; it was not at all engaging and while a sense of foreboding was never far away, I did not feel the tension.
That is perhaps surprising due to the number of harrowing incidents that take place – there are several content warnings so do be aware of them. The plot does move extremely quickly, but it mainly consists of Jack and Matty as they search for the money and try to escape the clutches of those who wish them harm. Overall it is a good story, but one that I would have enjoyed more had it been more roundly developed, and written in a slightly different way.
Cory Anderson is from Idaho, the state in which What Beauty There Is is set. It is her debut novel, having previously won the Grand Prize in the Storymakers Conference First Chapter Contest. She lives in the Rocky Mountains with her two children.
This one left me with mixed feelings. I liked the idea and feel of the story, but the writing style meant I could not connect with it as much as I would have liked. On a thematic level however, it is excellent.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐
*I received a free advanced copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Be sure to check out the reviews by the many other bloggers on the tour!